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Sometimes College Football Fields Aren’t Green

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Thanksgiving week is a big one in the world of college football. It’s rivalry week! The Iron Bowl, The Apple Cup, The Game. These are all names that mean something to college football fans, and they are all the names of games being played this week.

We’re celebrating here at BSM with a series of three articles written by Demetri Ravanos, the company’s resident college football fanatic. These articles highlight some of the interesting, “insider-y” aspects of following the sport.

In the our final article, Demetri Ravanos talks to two broadcasters that have the unique challenge of calling games on fields that aren’t green, a phenomenon that is more common than you might think if you don’t follow college football.

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Eastern Michigan plays on a gray field. If you didn’t know that and just looked at a picture of Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilant you might think you were seeing some kind of photoshop effect where only certain parts of a black and white picture have been colorized.

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That is actually pretty tame by college football standards. Remember, this is a sport where Eastern Washington has a red field and Coastal Carolina plays on a teal field.

The most famous not-green field of all is in Boise, Idaho. The Boise State Broncos’ blue field has been dubbed “The Smurf Turf” and is the subject of one of my favorite urban legends.

Like a lot of fans, I have always heard that to Canadian Geese flying south, the field looks like a lake. More than once, the legend goes, geese assume it is water and crash as they hit it, not prepared for it to be actual land.

“The story about the geese thinking that the field is a lake is totally false. The geese are way smarter than that. They can tell blue turf from water,” Bob Behler, the radio voice of the Broncos tells me in an email.

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I asked Bob if Boise State fans are proud of the Smurf Turf’s place in the pantheon of the sport. He says locally, fans consider it to be more than just the most famous field in college football.

“First of all Boise State’s iconic blue field is the most recognizeable feature in the state of Idaho. We recently celebrated 30 years on the Blue back in 2016 and in that time if you see highlights on a blue field, you know who is playing. Having good teams over the years has helped the reputation of Blue take on magical qualities. Kind of like Howard’s rock at Clemson, the hedges at Georgia and touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame.”

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Considerably further south you’ll find Conway, Arkansas. It is the home of the Estes Stadium, where the Central Arkansas Bears play on a purple and gray turf, truly one of the strangest sites in the sport.

My friend Justin Acri is the radio play-by-play voice of the Bears. He told me that the unorthodox field actually represents the school falling in line with their peers…kinda. “I was there for the transition. They had natural grass before and Central Arkansas was the last team in the Southland Conference to go to turf when they did in 2011.”

The field alternates between purple and gray every five yards and then features black end zones. I asked Justin if there was ever a strange play that was the direct result of playing on such a non-traditional surface.

“I can’t think of anything that was a result of the playing surface directly,” he said, but then pointed out that the Bears have won a lot of games at home since the field went from green to something out of a Colorado Rockies fever dream. “They have won a lot of games on it and started out 13-0 and by my count 37-7 (84%) since installing the turf including three wins this year.”

So what is it like to actually call a game on surface that isn’t green?

“Honestly I don’t really consciously notice it all during a game,” Acri says. He also acknowledges that in a way, the field might make his job easier. “With the five yard increments, it probably makes it a little easier to know how long a gain was.”

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“Doesn’t make any difference to me following it.  Just like basketball floors that have a lot of paint in the key or inside the arc….it is what is,” Behler says.

But what if a green field is all you know? Do visiting broadcasters ever complain about the turf?

“The blue seems to get in a lot of peoples heads as far as opponents go. Maybe it does to the other broadcasters too, but I’ve never heard any say it has,” Behler says.

Acri says that he has heard complaints, but not very many. “I know of one guy in the league who complains about it, but he’s a complainer…Most guys I believe [either] think it is pretty cool or realize it has no bearing on the game at all.”

Multi-colored fields and playing surfaces that are a color other than green is a very college football-centric tradition. The NFL is all about conformity and making sure everything is uniform. I’ll never argue that the level of play in college is better, but it’s the weird eccentricities of the sport’s culture that make college football a more appealing overall product.

BSM Writers

Mike Greenberg Asked a Fine Question, But He Can Do Better

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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